"Dalit Solidarity News" is an information project run by the International Dalit Solidarity Network. News stories are extracts from online newsservices. Link to the full story is found at the end of each blog.
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Friday, May 26, 2006
India to hike lower-caste quotas despite protest
24 May 2006
By Nitin Luthra
NEW DELHI, May 24
India's ruling coalition has decided to set aside half the seats in federally funded colleges for lower-caste candidates from next year, despite widespread protests by upper-caste students and doctors.
The plan to raise the proportion of reserved seats from 22.5 percent to 49.5 percent has run into bitter opposition since it was floated last month.
Protests have intensified in the past 10 days and many doctors have gone on strike, crippling healthcare in many cities.
In the eastern state of West Bengal, medical students and junior doctors stopped work on Wednesday, snapped telephone lines and drove away senior officials at a state-run hospital in Siliguri, about 550 km (340 miles) north of the capital, Kolkata.
They turned away some patients and padlocked hospital gates.
In Kolkata, doctors wearing white gowns marched through the streets with placards and begging bowls.
"Give us food and jobs," Supriya Basu, a junior doctor said.
But despite the wave of protests, the Congress-party-led government, under pressure from communist allies and mindful of capturing lower-caste votes, decided on Tuesday night to push ahead with the plan.
"Legislation for this purpose will be brought before parliament in the monsoon session," Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee told reporters late on Tuesday, adding the law would come into force from the academic year starting in June, 2007.
But in a bid to ease upper-caste anger, he said a committee would be set up to work out how to increase the total number of seats available for students competing on merit.
The protesters, led by medical students, say the quota law would reduce their opportunity to study medicine, engineering or management even if they had scored high marks.
However, lower-caste students say state support is necessary as they have long had fewer chances for quality education.
In New Delhi, the centre of nationwide protests, medical students continued their hunger strikes and demonstrations.
The protesters formed human chains and held placards reading: "Kill us, don't kill merit" and "We will fight till the last drop of blood".
Striking doctors and medical students in western Gujarat state said they planned to intensify their protests.
"Reservation will corrode the education system. We will not allow such damage," Urmi Jain, a 32-year-old surgeon at a state hospital in the state's main city of Ahmedabad, said.
Although caste discrimination is illegal, it is still powerful and causes violence, particularly in rural areas.
Read the full article
Caste identity to be kept secret
May 24, 2006
With a debate on having quotas for the socially underprivileged raging across the country, the government is considering suggestions for protecting identity of SC, ST and OBC candidates appearing for Public Service Commission exams, including UPSC.
The Planning Commission, in a paper sent to the PMO, has suggested doing away with the current practice of issuing distinct roll numbers to SC, ST and OBC candidates appearing for such exams as it exposes them to discrimination by interviewers.
These numbers would be replaced with a serial number common up to the interview level to guard against any discrimination.
A computerised identifiable roll number, given to candidates belonging to these weaker sections, is different from the ones given to general category candidates. Interviews for the SC, ST and OBC candidates are also held separately.
Link to the article
Monday, May 22, 2006
Doctors strike over plan to give more college places to India's lower castes
18 May 2006
RUPAM JAIN NAIR IN AHMEDABAD, INDIA
DOCTORS and medical students stayed away from work and blocked roads across large parts of India yesterday as protests grew over a controversial government move to reserve more college places for lower castes.
State-run hospitals in Gujarat and West Bengal were disrupted, leaving thousands of patients without treatment.
The government called in army doctors to help and said it was losing patience with the striking housemen and junior doctors. "We have issued notices to doctors ... we may have to replace them," Anbumani Ramadoss, the health minister said. "This is not the way to take the government to ransom."
In the capital, New Delhi, students, housemen and doctors set up makeshift outdoor treatment centres, aimed at making sure some patients were treated, while underlining the protest.
However, the government insists it will go ahead with its move to more than double the proportion of seats reserved for lower castes and tribes. If the decision becomes law, nearly half the places in top educational institutes will be reserved for the country's traditionally underprivileged groups.
This has sparked fury among upper-caste students, especially those who have to compete fiercely on merit for limited seats in medicine, engineering and management schools. "If the government does not care for us, why should we work for them?" asked Keyur Panchal, a striking paediatrician at a state-run hospital in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's main city.
Senior doctors on duty there said the strike had put them under tremendous pressure. "I am a surgeon, but hospital authorities want me to attend all critical cases that are being rushed in," JK Rao said. "The strike should be called off."
As the row escalated, patients were caught in the middle. "There are no doctors to attend to my son," Falgun Dave, a retired civil servant, said in Ahmedabad, as he tried to get treatment for his son who had been hurt in a motorcycle crash.
"I asked some junior doctors to help me but they refused as they are on strike."
Elsewhere in Gujarat, medical students washed cars on public roads to highlight their protest as bemused motorists looked on.
In the West Bengal town of Siliguri, hundreds of students and doctors blocked a national highway.
In New Delhi, lower-caste activists in favour of the quotas held banners saying "Reservation is our right" as they scuffled with police who stopped them from approaching upper-caste student protesters.
Though India has officially banned caste discrimination, the ancient Hindu social system is still very powerful and raises intense passions. In 1990, many upper-caste students burned themselves to death in protest at more government jobs being reserved for the lower castes.
Lower-caste students entering sought-after higher education schools through quotas need lower admission marks.
"We've had enough reservations," said Sujata Mukherjee, a medical student in Kolkata, West Bengal. "Now is the time to focus only on merit, nothing else."
Link to the article
Furore reflects India's caste complexities
20 May 2006
By Sanjoy Majumder BBC News, Delhi
The proposal is bitterly opposed by students at top universitiesA plan to set aside places at some of India's best-known professional colleges for low-caste Indians has bitterly divided the country.
Angry students at elite institutions across the country have been taking to the streets in protest and doctors at major hospitals have gone on strike to show solidarity.
Business leaders and teachers have joined the students in decrying the move saying that it would lead to a drop in academic standards.
But the move also has the support of millions of low-caste Indians who have faced years of social discrimination and are poorly represented in leading professions.
In recent years, low-caste Hindus - who form a significant percentage of the population - have also grown politically influential, particularly in north India.
It is one reason that no political party - from left-leaning socialist parties to centre-right parties such as the Congress and the BJP - can afford to ignore them.
The caste system in India is centuries old and derives from ancient Hinduism.
A complex social order which assigned people a place in the social hierarchy based on their occupation, it has remained entrenched in modern India - particularly in the villages.
Lower castes have become politically influential in recent years. The very bottom of the social hierarchy is made up of Dalits - once known as untouchables - while the top consists of Brahmins, once the priestly class. Despite laws banning discrimination, caste violence continues to occur at regular intervals across many parts of the country.
It is also not limited to Hindus - the caste system exists among other religious groups such as Muslims and Sikhs. However, many argue that over the years their political influence has grown leading to some emancipation.
One of India's leading sociologists, MN Srinivasan, has argued that urbanisation and industrialisation have helped to break down caste barriers to some extent as people moved out of traditional occupations.
More significantly, he argues, many Dalits and tribals were represented in local government bodies after the constitution was amended to set aside a percentage of seats for them.
At present, 22.5% of places in government-funded academic institutions are set aside for Dalits and listed tribes who make up roughly 25% of the population.
Social and economic divides still exist across IndiaSimilar "quotas" exist in parliament, state assemblies and local government bodies, as well as government jobs.
The government now wants to set aside an additional 27% of college places for low-caste Indians known as Other Backward Castes (OBCs) as well as some other disadvantaged groups.
The OBCs are placed higher than the Dalits in the caste hierarchy although they do not enjoy any affirmative action benefits except in government jobs - a move that was introduced in 1990 amid violent protests.
But the move has invited a backlash from many who say it will only lead to a lowering of standards at the institutes.
Those opposed to extending them benefits say that the system only benefits those members of the lower castes who are already economically independent or socially powerful.
Sociologist Dipankar Gupta believes the concept of caste has outlived its utility in modern India.
"For the most part, reservations have become a kind of holy cow in public circles.
"Nobody dare question its relevance, and, what is worse, many are more than willing to extend reservations to cover other groups by arguing that they had been victims of some kind of historic injustice," he says.
But others argue that poverty is not the only issue.
"You must take into account social and cultural deprivation," says political analyst Yogendra Yadav.
Many have been left out of India's economic development"Along with economic capital, the absence of cultural capital can make a huge difference to people's ability to compete," he adds.
The reason that the issue has taken such an emotive turn is explained in part by the fact that admission into elite professional colleges in India is highly sought and heavily competitive.
Less than 1% of the hundreds of thousands of Indians who apply to get into the colleges every year are successful.
There are only seven Indian Institutes of Technologies, the country's most prestigious engineering colleges, many of whose graduates have flooded Silicon Valley and are leading the country's information technology boom.
And there are a total of 242 medical colleges for the country's billion-strong population.
One proposal being discussed is increasing the numbers so that more people can get in.
But college administrators question whether that will be possible without a massive increase in infrastructure, including quality teaching staff.
Some like Yogendra Yadav believe the only way out is to also bring poor upper-caste and other such groups under the affirmative action umbrella.
Whatever the outcome, the debate illustrates the deep social divisions that still exist in modern-day India.
While the country is one of the world's fastest growing economies, it has still to win the battle over some of its deep-rooted problems.
Link to the article